A message from Dr. Nel Wieman and teammates in the FNHA's Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCMO)
For many people, the month of December brings to mind sparkly holiday parties, boisterous family gatherings, and general good cheer and fun.
For others, however, December can be an especially difficult time of the year as they watch everyone else seemingly enjoying the holiday season together while they feel isolated and lonely. What’s more, the palpable pressure to feel joyous and festive can worsen feelings of loneliness, which has been described as one of the greatest public health challenges, right up there with smoking.
I’m sure there are people who thoroughly enjoy the holidays without any angst or stress, but this message is not for these lucky souls! As someone who is naturally introverted and is living across the country from my few remaining family members, and whose partner is in the same position and of the same disposition, I have had to really work at creating some holiday spirit and not coming across a bit Grinchy. Or at least at not becoming stressed out or feeling left out or lonely in the midst of all the bright Christmas lights and activities.
Knowing that I’m not the only one who feels like this, I thought I’d put together some tips from myself and my OCMO teammates that we hope might help you to have just a little happier holiday season!
Indigenous Canadians, visible minorities, those with mobility challenges, and LGBTQ2S individuals are all more likely to deal with social isolation and loneliness than the general population average, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute. So, these are some of the people who might find the holidays difficult.
Dr. Evan Adams, Chief Medical Officer
“This holiday season, let’s make great efforts to reach out to everyone in our community and make sure that no one is left unfed or unsupported. By checking on each other and staying connected, we are helping Elders, women and girls, and others to have a safe holiday season. And let’s continue these connections and safe spaces going into the New Year and all year long!"
Dress warmly and get outside with others to enjoy some crisp winter air and nature in general. Or, if you’re in the city, take a walking tour of the dazzling array of Christmas lights and decorations! Remember: Be safe and beware of icy walkways.
Dr. Shannon McDonald, Deputy Chief Medical Officer
“I have family coming from Ottawa, so feeling very blessed. We are living in a beautiful area outside Victoria, and will spend some time doing outdoor activities like walking together to look at the neighbours’ Christmas lights with the younger family members.”
People living away from home, whether across the country or across the province, might not have any/many friends or family members to spend Christmas with. Why not invite your friends and loved ones living away from home to come spend some time with you or to share your holiday meal? Make it a potluck or cook it together if that is possible!"
Dr. Nel Wieman, Senior Medical Officer, Mental Health & Wellness
“My partner and I have family far away so we celebrate the holidays by inviting others in the same situation over for dinner, and sharing an evening of good food, stories and laughter. Often our guests are those more likely to be feeling alone during the holidays. Though our circle may be small, we are a merry group!"
Do this with family, friends or other people you know genuinely care about you and your wellbeing. Let them know if you’re lonely and need more interaction, or if you’re stressed out by all the obligatory events. Realize and respect your own boundaries and don’t take on too much.
Dr. Helena Swinkels, Senior Medical Officer
“During the holiday season, my focus will be staying connected to my self, my own spirit. Christmas can be a difficult time if you have lost loved ones, so make sure you have time to remember and to stay connected to self.”
Check out events on social media and bulletin boards that may be open to everyone and plan to attend. This is a good time to get to meet new people or try new events.
Pamela Finn, Executive Assistant to the CMO
“For me and my son, I provide him with options on what he wants to do. For example: A hockey game, Cirque du Soleil, or the 4D ride at FlyOver Canada in Canada Place, which currently has a Santa Claus theme – you virtually ‘fly’ across the country, ending up in the North Pole at Santa's Workshop.”
Give the people you’re with your attention. Put your phones and gadgets down if you’re communicating with people who aren’t with you at the expense of those who are.
Anita Christoff, Health & Wellness Writer
“I’m the only person in my family who’s into social media, and I tend to spend too much time on it. So when I’m with my family during the holidays I try to remember to focus on the people who are right there with me, especially my granddaughter, nieces and nephews.”
Or how about sending a “Merry Christmas” text or social media message to an old friend from school, church, university or your old job? Then once chatting, arrange to meet up and catch up. You'll have so much to talk about!
Jordie Johnson, Senior Coordinator, Wellness Initiatives
“My family is connected in a Facebook Messenger Group and sometimes we have a group FaceTime Chat.”
Cherish this time. Take advantage of having everyone together. Try something new and different.
Jane Doherty, Manager, Executive Offices
“My family recently started a new tradition that includes going out for dinner and celebrating on Christmas Eve. New traditions keep things fresh."
If you have some spare time over the Christmas holidays, why not look into local organizations and community groups that might need some extra help?
Volunteering can make you feel good by knowing you're helping others, as well as allow you to meet and chat with new people, which can help alleviate the feeling of isolation. Especially look out for elderly members of the community who might not have anyone.
Anita Manshadi, Wellness Research Coordinator
“My family in Victoria will make sandwiches together and deliver the sandwiches to a local charity.”
Go out and aim to talk to someone each day: a colleague, a shop worker, a barista, etc.
Elizabeth Hunter, Administrative Assistant with OCMO team
“During the holiday season, so many people are out and about doing Christmassy things. I like to take the opportunity to talk to someone every day, or at least smile and say hi. As well, my family will extend an invite to family and friends that we know may not have anyone to spend the holidays with.”